Wrestling has an extremely long history in the world of Sport and Entertainment. It’s not all WWE either… The very best in historical content here at TWM.
We take a trip back in our TWM Time Machine, to bring you all the best from times past.
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The history of professional wrestling, as a performing art, started in the early 20th century, with predecessors in funfair and variety strongman and wrestling performances (which often involved match fixing) in the 19th century.
Professional wrestling is a popular form of entertainment in Australia, North America, Latin America, Europe and Japan. Wrestling as a modern sport developed in the 19th century out of traditions of folk wrestling, emerging in the form of two styles of regulated competitive sport, “freestyle” and “Greco-Roman” wrestling (based on British and continental tradition, respectively), summarized under the term “amateur wrestling” by the beginning of the modern Olympics in 1896. The separation of “worked”, i.e. purely performative, choreographed wrestling (“admitted fakery” or “kayfabe”) from competitive sport begins in the 1920s.
Its popularity declined during World War II, but it was revived in the late 1940s to 1950s, the First Golden Age of professional wrestling in the United States, during which Gorgeous George gained mainstream popularity. In Mexico and Japan, the 1940s-1950s was also a Golden Age for professional wrestling, with Santo becoming a Mexican folk hero, and Rikidōzan achieving similar fame in Japan.
There was a marked decline in public interest in the 1970s and early 1980s, but with the advent of cable television in the mid-1980s, there followed a Second Golden Age as the United States experienced a professional wrestling boom, with protagonists such as Hulk Hogan, André the Giant, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Ric Flair, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The nature of professional wrestling was changed dramatically to better fit television, enhancing character traits and storylines.
Television has also helped many wrestlers break into mainstream media, becoming influential celebrities and icons of popular culture. Wrestling’s popularity boomed when independent enthusiasts unified and their media outlets grew in number and became an international phenomenon in the 1980s with the expansion of the World Wrestling Federation (now known as World Wrestling Entertainment, shortened to simply WWE).
Throughout the 1990s, professional wrestling achieved highs in both viewership and financial success during a time of fierce competition among competing promotions, such as the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling.
Since the mid-2000s, there has been another decline in popularity of professional wrestling; Pro Wrestling Noah’s Power Hour and New Japan Pro Wrestling’s World Pro Wrestling have been largely relegated to the midnight hours by their broadcasters and WWE’s television programs have seen relatively lower ratings, despite reporting record-high yearly earnings in 2018 and a modest spike in interest and viewership in 2019 and 2020.
This was paralleled with a renewed interest in competitive combat sports with the rise of mixed martial arts. Despite this, WWE has managed to establish itself as the leader of sports-oriented content on digital viewership platforms, most notably YouTube, where it commands the highest number of channel subscribers and video views for a Sports channel.